Who is most affected when a show doesn’t go off as it’s supposed to? The audience? The promoter? The MC? We might suppose that’s one of the questions being posed by Gabe Levey’s The Most Beautiful Thing in the World, at Yale Cabaret. Ostensibly, we’re gathered to “discover the power of the Youniverse” with inspiring motivational speaker Chase Michaels (Dan O’Brien), but what we get is something completely different.
So different that, I suspect, the show will be different for each audience gathered for the event. If mainly literalists of the “see the show” variety are gathered, then that’s what will happen: they’ll see a show of some sort. If more interactive viewers are present, they may well find that they’re helping to make the show they’re seeing. The point of the exercise, then, isn’t simply to entertain but to manifest something inherently precarious about theatrical experience. The “house” has a lot to do with what you get. Which might be a way of saying that, though we each live in our own “youniverse,” we are always also inhabiting other people’s, and, beyond that, the same actual universe. We can’t escape that fact any more than we can escape the fact of “what’s happening in Washington.”
The latter trope—for everything that affects us that we can’t directly control—was present in the version of the show I saw Thursday night. When asked—with searching earnestness by Carol (Kate Tarker), Chase’s John the Baptist supposedly unfit to tie his sandal-strap—“what is your problem?,” members of the audience were willing to volunteer answers such as “Republicans” and “all politicians.” While we might imagine a show in which all the problems mentioned were of the “youniverse” variety (I was thinking of saying “aging,” if asked; someone else told me she would’ve said “uncomfortable shoes”), the fact that part of what might be bringing us down is “the world at large” is instructive, and indicative of the show's implications.
It’s structured like a self-help session that doesn’t quite come off, and yet does. Carol does all she can, and let’s hear it for that plucky presenter, mustering her best “show must go on” gumption and stepping into the breach—nay, the gaping chasm—that occurs when breathless fans of Chase Michaels' every move find themselves confronted with so much less than the answer to everything. Unless the answer to everything is . . . entertaining yourselves? Showmanshipwise, there are spacey projections of the slideshow variety (wielding “the clicker” is a lot like wielding the remote in domestic situations), and a great moment of eerie “out-of-body” vocalizing to ambient sounds that felt like an astral plane version of scream therapy.
As Carol, Tarker is charming. Sporting a vaguely Justin Bieber-like head of hair, wearing a no-nonsense business gal suit, Carol seems as androgynous as she can be. She’s like anyone’s cute younger sister/brother at that guileless age—eight? nine?—before major anxieties set in. As such, she seems equal to the task of mucking through because she has no ego to be destroyed by audience dissatisfaction. She quickly makes herself one of us—let he or she who has never had things go wrong in public cast the first cat-call. When Chase finally does arrive he’s a decided party-pooper. It’s like watching a TV personality intrude on a heart-to-heart between nobodies. He expects the spotlight but his show’s already over.
I suspect that the “plot” element to the show—Carol showing Chase what’s what—may have been a late arrival in the process, if only because the show seems predicated on the idea that drama happens even when nothing happens, when the best-laid plans, as they say, “gang agley.”
Maybe seeing the giftedly glib get their come-uppance is “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” or maybe it’s just finding out that your “YOUniverse” includes lots of other “you’s,” enough, even, to be an “us.”
The Most Beautiful Thing in the World Conceived and Directed by Gabe Levey
Scenic Designer: Kurtis Boetcher; Costume Designer: Soule Golden; Sound Designer: Tyler Kieffer; Projection Designer: Gabe Levey; Stage Manager: Anita Shastri; Technical Director: Lee O’Reilly; Producer: Alyssa Simmons; Creative Collaborators: Mickey Theis, Mitchell Winter; Projection Engineer: Nick Hussong; Photography: Nick Thigpen
Yale Cabaret 217 Park Street
October 3-5, 2013